US President Barack Obama (L) and Vice President Joe Biden.
(photo credit: OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE PHOTO BY PETE SOUZA)
For Jews and for Israelis there were a number of truly moving messages relayed by US President Barack Obama via The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg in a wide-ranging interview last week.
Unfortunately, the US president also placed the onus for the perpetuation of the “status quo” in the West Bank and Gaza exclusively on Israel. He did not acknowledge that, no matter how much Israelis want to make peace, it takes the cooperation of both sides. And Palestinians have been severely deficient when it comes to basic goodwill.
On the positive side, Obama expressed a deep identification with the Jewish state, connecting the Jews’ successful push for national self-determination after centuries of anti-Semitism that culminated in the Holocaust with African Americans’ victorious campaign for human rights.See the latest opinion pieces on our Opinion & Blogs Facebook page
“There’s a direct line between supporting the right of the Jewish people to have a homeland and to feel safe and free of discrimination and persecution, and the right of African Americans to vote and have equal protection under the law,” Obama said.
This comment was noteworthy for a number of reasons.
It represents the best response to historical revisionists inspired by Soviet-era propaganda who attempt to paint Zionists as imperialists and occupiers. Instead, it rightly places the Zionist movement where it belongs within the context of progressive and anti-imperialist post-World War II movements that sought to empower the subjugated and downtrodden. It also revealed Obama’s personal identification with the Zionist movement.
A lot of Jews and Israelis would even agree with Obama’s criticism of comments and policies made and implemented by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his governments against Arab Israelis and Palestinians. Questioning settlement policy, expressing compassion or empathy toward Palestinian youth who are dealing with checkpoints or restrictions on their ability to travel should not be equated with being anti-Israel, not to mention anti-Jewish.
Indeed, Obama was right to upbraid Netanyahu for comments before Israel’s elections slighting Arab voters.
But while it is not only legitimate but even obligatory for true friends to be candid with one another, even if it means expressing biting criticism when necessary, Obama neglected to mention the many Israeli peace overtures that have been rejected over the years by the Arab nations and by the Palestinians.
Obama failed to acknowledge that it is Arab and Palestinian rejectionism that perpetuates the status quo, not a lack of willingness to compromise on the part of Israelis. Palestinians have over the years made horrifically bad choices that stretch back before their rejection of partition and continue to this day. Palestinians are led in Gaza by Hamas, a terrorist organization pledged to Israel’s destruction and on the West Bank by politicians who are corrupt, incite to violence against Israelis, glorify terrorists, and refuse to reconcile themselves to the existence of Israel as a state that is the national self-determination of the Jewish people.
Obama seems not to appreciate the tremendous sacrifices Israelis would have to make for peace – dismantling settlements, relinquishing security arrangements, and exposing themselves to more terrorism. These sacrifices exist solely because large swathes of the Palestinian people refuse to accept Israel’s right to exist in peace and security and insist on continuing the struggle against the Jewish state’s very existence. An objective observer of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle gets the impression from rhetoric, political choices and the ways they invest their energies and resources that Palestinians care more about the delegitimization and destruction of the Jewish state than they do about improving their own lives in a democratic Palestinian state.
Obama’s comments, made over the course of an hourlong interview, much of which was devoted to what Goldberg headlined “The President’s Relationship with Israel and the Jewish People,” failed to reflect empathy for Israeli concerns vis-à-vis the Palestinians.
Unfortunately, Obama’s skewed take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will now be exploited by the Palestinians to further pressure Israel to make concessions, while Palestinians will continue to incite, run a corrupt government, and support in large numbers the goals and actions of Hamas.
Obama clearly has a sincere desire to see the Jewish state live in peace and see Palestinians achieve national self-determination in a free, democratic Palestinian state. The publication of his inter